Gray skies and cool temperatures didn’t dampen the mood much at the first day of the 51st Bologna Children’s Book Fair, on Monday March 24. As is often the case, several deals were cemented in the frenzied run-up to the fair, while many others will come together in the weeks and months to follow.
Among some early observations of activity and interest, literary scout John McLay dubbed this “the year of the partial,” with books selling while still in unfinished form, even books headed for translation. Megan Quinn, director of subsidiary rights at Charlesbridge, reported seeing more demand for nonfiction, “especially in Asia, where there’s more need for books in science and math. And more publishers are open to middle-grade. I’m finding that more and more people are looking at more and more categories, rather than just one.”
Anita Eerdmans, v-p at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, described the first day as “busy” and said one of the strengths of the Bologna fair is the opportunity to discover books she might not otherwise be aware of, from countries her company hasn’t bought from before (this year she met with a publisher from India for the first time). “The trouble is having so many appointments that there’s no time to wander around and discover something special,” she said. Eerdmans was proud to be showing proofs of The Right Word: Peter Mark Roget and His Thesaurus, a long-in-the-works picture book biography from Melissa Sweet and Jen Bryant (though she knows its text-heavy illustrations make translation difficult). The book pubs in September.
Among the deals being talked about was a first YA novel from writer Jennifer Niven, whose books for adults include The Ice Master and Velma Jean Learns to Drive. To be published in January 2015 by Random House U.S., All the Bright Places is about two teenagers whose relationship begins when they meet on the ledge of the school bell tower. Random House acquired the book in a pre-empt, and rights have already sold in the U.K., France, Germany, and Italy.
Another adult writer moving into YA is Sex with Kings author Eleanor Herman, who is exploring the life of a young Alexander the Great in a new series, tentatively titled Legacy. Stephen Barbara of Foundry Literary + Media sold the book to Harlequin Teen just before Bologna in a “mid-six-figures,” four-book deal. So late-closing was the deal that the book isn’t even in Foundry’s rights guide at the fair (Barbara described it as an “off-the-menu special”). The novel will also feature the POV of Alexander’s sister, as well as elements of magic.
Just before the fair, Josh Adams of Adams Literary sold Emily Kate Johnston's YA novel A Thousand Nights (which was sold based on a 56-page partial) to Disney-Hyperion in a mid-six-figure, two-book deal, for publication in fall 2015, after an eight-publisher auction. During Bologna (though he wasn’t in attendance this year), he accepted six-figure two-book pre-empts from Macmillan in the U.K., and Editora Intrinseca in Brazil, with other countries under negotiation.
On the middle-grade side – a category that still seems poised for growth following the YA boom of recent years past – a Little, Brown title, Geoff Rodkey’s The Tapper Twins Go to War (with Each Other) has secured foreign rights deals in Germany, France, Norway, Finland, and Brazil, with four additional offers pending. The book is described as an oral history of an escalating prank war between two siblings, with interjections from family and friends, and documented in photos, screenshots, and text messages. Little, Brown plans to publish The Tapper Twins in spring 2015, with three books to follow.
For picture books, another pre-Bologna buy was gathering steam: Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas, a book that aims to teach components of computer programming and operating systems. The book originated on Kickstarter, where the author raised $380,000 for the project – the most raised for any children's book to date. Feiwel and Friends acquired North American rights in a two-book pre-empt. Though it was originally pitched as a straight picture book, Jean Feiwel plans to use a format similar to Laura Overdeck’s Bedtime Math books for Hello Ruby, which has a fall 2015 pub date. Foundry’s Jessica Regel was the agent; at Bologna she’s seeing a lot of interest from U.K. and Scandinavian publishers. “The author is going to use the Kickstarter money to build an app and a video game,” Regel said, “and help build the Hello Ruby brand.”
HarperCollins announced the acquisition of a collaboration between Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers called Imaginary Fred, which will simultaneously pub in the U.S. and U.K. in fall 2015. The picture book tells the story of a friendship between two boys and their shared love of movies, music, and comics; it marks the first time the two have worked together.
Meanwhile, two major books from last year’s fair were far from forgotten. Receptions for Salla Simukka, author of the Snow White trilogy from Finnish publisher Tammi, and Sally Green, author of Penguin’s Half Bad, were both held on Monday evening, and both of the authors’ books were prominently displayed at the booths of their multiple international publishing partners.
For author Frances Hardinge – making her first trip to the Bologna fair in support of her latest novel, Cuckoo Song (out from Macmillan U.K. in May) – her Day One experience was “a little overwhelming.” She quickly realized, however, that “it’s a social, friendly sort of fair. I’ve already hugged a giant bee, and I’m on the lookout for the Gruffalo and Moomins.” (Confidential to Hardinge: the Moomins are hanging out opposite the Author’s Café between halls 29 and 30, in an exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of Moomins creator Tove Jansson.)
Also see: Bologna 2014: Realism Reigns.